Location: Los Angeles, California
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. My father got me into it. He was a huge science fiction buff, and he started renting VHS episodes of anime at the Hollywood Video. Iria, Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion, etc. I was about 15, and started to branch out into other genres of anime. Slayers, Ranma 1/2, Fushigi Yugi, Black Jack. Eventually, once I ran out of options at the video store to rent, I started purchasing videos. I remember discovering Cowboy Bebop this way. I had a part time job as a busser and all of my income went to buying these tapes (and eventually DVDs). I got a job at the Suncoast when I was 16, and I was on cloud nine ’cause I got a 35% discount (which was great when you were spending $30 on 3 episodes of subtitled anime), but I also took it upon myself to promote and recommend anime to people. At the time, the only anime on TV and easily accessible was Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon.
How did your dad discover anime? I’m honestly not sure how my dad first got into anime. He was very much into old science fiction, and as he was drawn to a lot of the anime sci-fi, I’m sure that’s what got him in to it. My Dad died about 10 years ago, so no idea if he’d still be into it now.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? It was so different in terms of its themes and story telling than the animation you saw in the west. With the exception of Ralph Bakski films, and Heavy Metal l, it was the first animation I’d seen that had adult themes. I also was amazed at the on-going story arcs so many of them had.
Back at Suncoast, did you ever see shoppers looking for anime specifically? I did run into a lot of other fans, and it was funny ’cause at the time I was going through my “elitist weeb” period. So here I was getting into all these new up and coming anime like Cowboy Bebop and Trigun, and everyone who came into the store just wanted the newest tape of Dragon Ball Z. The funny part was, I was moving to Los Angeles and my LAST week of working there, a guy came into the store and said, “Hey… last month, you recommended this movie… Princess Mononoke… and it was really good… thanks!”. It makes me laugh at how snobbish I was about stuff like that. I’m a lot more “live and let live” now when I meet people who don’t have the same tastes or interests in anime I do.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Hands down, Dragon Ball Z. It was on TV, and this was before streaming options. So it was the easiest to access. I once tracked down some fansubs cause I wanted to see all the stuff that Cartoon Network had edited out (these are those infamous subs where you had Goku dropping f-bombs). I was really into DBZ as well, but after I while I got into a snobby phase where I didn’t like it ’cause I felt people were too into it and over looking other titles.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I’d say, harder. This was pre-LiveJournal, let alone Facebook, Twitter etc. so when you’re a 16-year-old living in Albuquerque, you experience a lot of isolation. When you did meet other anime fans IRL, you ran the risk of hanging out with people who were toxic and even predatory. I made some friends via the IRC chat, mailing lists, and just even emailing people who had fan pages I liked, but it really didn’t have the strong communities like it did now.
You had a mixed bag experience online at the time. Can you tell me about the first time you met other fans IRL? The first time I met fellow online fans was at Otakon 2001. One of my buddies met me at the airport in Baltimore and I just remember seeing him face to face and thinking ‘WOAH’. These days it’s really normal of me to meet internet pals at cons and in a very casual manner (“oh hey. we’re at so and so panel/we’re at this bar, come by!”), but to meet someone for the first time in The Meat Space was really surreal and wrapped my mind.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Yes. It was Otakon 2001. That’s pre 9/11! I cosplayed as Milly Thompson from Trigun, my very first cosplay! I got so much positive attention from it and it was so amazing to be surrounded by that many people who loved the same stuff I did. It was also before it was easy to shop online, or merch was available at malls, so I went back home with like, $300 worth of anime crap.
What kind of stuff did you buy? Do you still have it? Oh man… I bought a TON of Japanese untranslated manga (lol, I couldn’t even read Japanese at that level), lots of art books, ufo-catcher dolls, little pins (I bought one of Saito from Rurouni Kenshin. i remember this ’cause he was my favorite character in Kenshin and my friend at the time was REALLY shady about this. Always going “ew! why do you like him! he’s UGLY.” Like I said, it was a different time), and a few CDs. This was important ’cause at the time, anime cons were the only place you could get CDs that were not bootlegged. Sadly, I’ve moved a few times/changed a lot of my interests and I’m an anti-hoarder, so all that’s left is a Cowboy Bebop art book.
What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I’d say the biggest (and best!) difference in fandom is the variety of people. My first cons/groups, it was all cis, white people. I had lots of friends who had very conservative or centrists views, friends who’s imitate response to gay characters or same-sex shipping was “ew” or some very narrow minded shit like that. Now I got a ton of friends who are different ethnicities, many of my friends identify as queer, or trans and I think that’s wonderful that they feel safe and comfortable enough to do so. I go to cons and see so many different people, which is a great sign, it means anime has become more accessible to different groups of people. I think a lot of that is owed to american broadcasts like Toonami and distributions like Crunchyroll and Funimation getting simultaneous releases that you can watch for free or cheap.
Emma can be reached on Twitter.